Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel found and photographed at sea – pungent fish attracts “lost” species
An expedition to find the Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea has been successful, returning with stunning images and new information on one of the world’s least-known seabirds.(1)
Known from just one specimen collected in 1855 on Gau Island, Fiji, the Fiji Petrel was lost for the next 130 years. Since 1984 there have been a handful of reports of “grounded” birds that had crashed onto village roofs on Gau. Until now there had been no confirmed sightings of the seabird at sea. (2) (3)
To see such a little-known bird at such close range was magical —Tony Pym , Expedition member
The search for the elusive petrel is described in a paper in the latest Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. Up to eight individuals were seen over eleven days in an area around 25 nautical miles south of Gau. The species’ flight, behaviour and detailed comparison to other species are also described for the first time.
The paper’s lead author, Hadoram Shirihai, said: “Finding this bird and capturing such images was a fantastic and exhilarating experience”. (4) Fellow expedition member Tony Pym commented, “To see such a little-known bird at such close range was magical.”
Finding Fiji Petrel at sea was no accident, combining meticulous planning and luring the seabirds with a specially made food, called “chum”. The main ingredients of chum? Fish offal cut into small pieces and mixed with very dense fish oil, to which water was added and then frozen in 10-kg blocks. (5)
Frozen chum blocks persist for up to one-and-a-half hours, creating a pungent and constant oil slick, which attracts petrels from some miles away. On the second day, the first Fiji Petrel appeared, approaching the chum slick from downwind, slowly zigzagging over the slick, and suddenly changing direction to drop onto a small floating morsel.
Fiji Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered, with its perilous status confirmed by this expedition: “We observed only a few Fiji Petrels”, said Shirihai. “This was despite choosing what we considered to be the optimum month, and a method that would attract all petrels in the vicinity’’ and Pym added, “The present evidence is that very few Fiji Petrels survive, that immediate efforts to find the nest sites are needed, and prompt, effective protection is urgently required before it is too late.” (6)
“More surveys to locate the breeding area of Fiji Petrel are planned for 2010”, said Dick Watling of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti,. “Once we know the location, we can assess what needs to be done to turn around the fortunes of this species.” (7)
“Fiji Petrel is one of 192 bird species which are Critically Endangered,” said Jez Bird, Global Species Officer at BirdLife International. “Because Fiji Petrel is exceptionally rare and extremely poorly known any new data concerning range and abundance are vital to its conservation.” (8) (9)
The expedition also gathered valuable distributional information on many other seabird species, including the Endangered Phoenix Petrel Pterodroma alba and the Vulnerable Gould’s Pterodroma leucoptera and Parkinson’s Petrels Procellaria parkinsoni. (10)
Fiji Petrel is one of 192 bird species which are Critically Endangered —Jez Bird, Global Species Officer at BirdLife International
For further details and images, please contact:
Ade Long, Head of Communications, BirdLife International.
Tel: +44 (0)1223 279812
1. The findings are published in a paper in the latest issue of Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. First observations of Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea: off Gau Island, Fiji, in May 2009 by Hadoram Shirihai, Tony Pym, Jörg Kretzschmar, Kolinio Moce Amania Taukei & Dick Watling
2. Until this expedition Fiji Petrel had been identified only on Gau itself, where the type specimen was collected in 1855. Thereafter the species went unrecorded for nearly 130 years until one was caught in 1984. Then, between 1984-2009, there were about 16 reports of “grounded” birds on Gau, some of which were unconfirmed.
3. The Fiji Islands are in western Polynesia, c.2,000 km north of New Zealand and east of Australia. Volcanic Gau (18°01’S, 179°17’E; 136 km2) is 57 km east of the main island of Viti Levu and is Fiji’s fifth-largest island.
4. In 2008, Shirihai reconfirmed the existence of the Critically Endangered Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki after a gap of 79 years.
5. The chum was prepared a few weeks ahead by volunteers from NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the official BirdLife Species Guardian for Fiji Petrel
6. Fiji Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered on the Red List because it is estimated that there is only a tiny population, which is confined to a very small breeding area. Furthermore, it is assumed to be declining on its breeding grounds because of predation by introduced species such as cats, rats and feral pigs, a problem in common with several other Pacific Ocean islands. BirdLife International is the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List, each year submitting a revised list of species to the IUCN to include in its annual Red List update.
7. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti is Fiji’s sole membership-based, local conservation organisation and is working with communities and partners on several of Fiji’s most critical conservation issues. These include the Fiji Petrel, the Fiji Flying Fox Pteralopex acrodonta and the Fiji Sago Palm Metroxylon vitiense. www.naturefiji.org
8. BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries and territories who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them.
9. BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions initiative is working to save the world’s threatened birds by finding companies and institutions to act as BirdLife Species Champions, funding conservation efforts working on the ground. For more information: BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions.
10. The expedition was partially financed by a grant from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and its official sponsor the British Birdwatching Fair. The expedition formed part of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s wider Fiji Petrel Project sponsored by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Disney Conservation Trust Fund and the BirdLife International Community Conservation Fund.
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